The First Operation

From the series Breathing Life

Time truly seems to begin in that first breath of man. There’s a maternal quality as the Creator introduces each first of newborn mankind.

adamimage

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. – Genesis 2:7

If I didn’t know anything about descriptive writing and imagery, I’d still be able to tell this verse is an attention-getter. It explodes in my brain with its appeal to the senses. He “formed man of the dust of the ground” and “breathed into his nostrils.” Even the meanings behind the phrases are too deep to capture in one read-through: What really is “the breath of life”? What is “a living soul”? These phrases and words evoke a picture of a life-giving operation the Creator is performing.

Repeating what I said about Genesis 1, I’m not seeing a Creator here who stands back and watches. He is actively involved in the process. I’m given this intimate picture of breathing into the first man’s nostrils the breath of life. In Genesis 2 mankind is the focus. The Creator is going to flesh him out. Literally.

Genesis chapter two introduces the Creator’s name for the first time. It appears first in verse 4, “…in the day that the LORD God made….” In verse 7, the LORD God is the subject actively creating man. Some versions of the Bible insert “Jehovah” for LORD.1 In Hebrew, Jehovah was written in four letters, YHVH. This four-letter word, “the tetragrammaton,” is found more than 6,000 times in the Bible. So it’s clear the Creator wants His people to know His name. Unfortunately, we do not know for sure how to pronounce it because there weren’t vowels in the Hebrew script, and pronunciation was passed down through tradition. God’s name is sometimes pronounced Jehovah, Yehowah, Yahweh, and sometimes shortened to Yah or Jah (as in, Hallelujah). It means, ‘the existing one,’ which depicts His infinite nature. He always existed in the past. He exists now. He will always exist in the future.

The phrase ‘LORD God’ is used exclusively when the Creator is identifying Himself to His people as the cause of some effect. Here He is the cause of the creation of the world and the life of mankind. The ‘God’ in ‘LORD God’ is ‘elohim’ in Hebrew (or elohiym). ‘Elohim’ is the plural form of the Hebrew word ‘god.’ An entity perceived as superior to mankind in power and understanding is called ‘god.’ This Hebrew word is used in the Bible when the writer is speaking of any gods. For example, when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, decides to follow Jehovah, he says, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods (elohim)…” (Exodus 18:11).   So, ‘ Naming Himself “Jehovah God” for us is our Creator’s way of identifying Himself to His people. He is the existing one Who is superior to mankind in power and understanding. Later, the writer of Psalm 83 will pen,

“That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.” – verse 18

Recap: As a writer, I should focus on the characters, their natures, and their relationships at the beginning of the story.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

  1. Out of respect for His holiness, the letters YHVH were replaced with the letters for Lord (ADNY) in the Hebrew language.
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In Transition

First in the series Breathing Life

Phrases at the beginning of Genesis 2 help identify a transition in the narrative. Here’s one of them:

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,… – Genesis 2:4

Generations‘ conveys the meaning of a timeline from beginning to end. The same word/phrase is used in passages that list family genealogies. It tells me the creation account in Genesis 1 is in sequence. And, like reading a family tree, it’s the condensed version! Chapter 1 was the context-setter for chapter 2. It’s like the Star Wars crawl, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far way” before the explanation about the civil war going on.

…And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. – Genesis 2:5-6

Not only is the narrative transitioning, this explains how the creation transitioned, as well. No humans were prepping the earth to grow plant life, so the Creator steps in with a mist in the interim to make sure there is moisture and aeration. Until all things were created, the cyclical, cause-and-effect process of life was not complete, so it was helped along supernaturally until the point that it was all present and able to work as the autonomous machine I see today.

I tend to want to believe the laws of nature were always in place, and, yet, I accept that the same laws are breaking down – that this earth is slowing down and tearing down and losing its efficiency. Why is it so much easier for me to accept the earth’s future trajectory than it is to accept the launching Force at the point of origin?alley-ball-bowl

Recap: A prologue is the context-setter for the story.

I’ve read many prologues. Some have no intention of setting the context or telling me what’s going on. Some are confusing and require a great deal of non-linear thinking and patience. The purpose of Genesis 1 is not to frustrate the reader, who is there to receive information. Maybe that’s why it starts at the beginning and goes in sequence.  Maybe the Genesis account aids one in basic critical thinking. A sort of primer.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by Permission.

Bubble Trouble

Do you writers ever find yourself stymied by having to do things just so to get the creativity flowing? The ritual must be performed, or you end up not writing at all? My desk has this powerful, just so aura around it. (I posted a tribute of sorts to my desk in all its unsorted glory called Desktopsy.) My characters surge to the forefront of my antsy brain when I sit down in my cushy desk chair. (I wrote about my chair, too. Twice. I’m beginning to see a pattern in my blog topic choices.) When I take my place in front of my desk, I enter the word crafter’s bubble, invisible to the naked eye… and probably to the clothed eye, as well.

The boundaries of this bubble must not be breached for any reason. If the house is on fire, save yourselves! My mind is afire and must not be interrupted! For this reason I’m thinking of wearing pajamas every time I write. Just in case. They are all made of flame-retardant material now, which might come in handy. (It sure doesn’t do a bit of good for sleeping. My kids have not combusted yet, fortunately, but they do wake up sweaty and smelly in their flame-retardant jammies.)

Rituals are good and all, but this desk dependence needs adjusting. I want to take my bubble with me. It should be the slave of my quill, not the master. So, my friends, I’ve done the impossible. I am, presently, not writing at my desk. I’m writing in bed. Yes, I’m onto something here. I’m on my bed. (Ugh.) You see, I knew I’d have to spoil myself to make any true change. My Pandora RillaWriter station is playing through my ear buds, and it’s time to immerse myself in the enchanted world of King Draill and Lady Esda. I’ll let you know how it goes.

P.S. My deepest sympathies go out to all of the flame-retardant-jammied children. My legs are already feeling moist in these sticky pajama pants. 😦

Seeing the Bear

I went on a hike with my aunt to Abrams Falls at Cades Cove a couple of weeks ago. The information online said the hike was “moderate to strenuous.” Oh, it was. My aunt pointed out, “That was five miles uphill both ways.”

Abrams Falls 201308(2)
Abrams Falls

My aunt and I both love to walk. We both love the entrancing beauty of the outdoors, the incredible wonder of God’s Earth. We both have a not-so-secret desire to hike the Appalachian Trail. After that moderate to strenuous hike, though, I doubt whether I could handle it. We would’ve turned back if not for our guides, a couple who have hiked to the falls before. They had walking sticks. That should’ve been my first clue.

I had on a pair of athletic sneakers. By the time we reached the halfway point going to the falls, I felt like I was wearing flip-flops for all the support they gave me. My feet were sliding around in them, and I could feel the point of every rock on the pads of my feet. My dad and brother have hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail. I remembered my brother’s hiking boots and his layers of thick, thick socks. Hm. Now I get it. I remember their regimen months before they hit the trail. They got up in the mornings to go to the local football field and run up and down the bleachers. As I peeled away my soaked t-shirt from my back, their stamina-building exercises made a little bit more sense to me.

In Dragonfly Prince one of the main characters, Ivan, is captured by the dragonflies while he is hiking the Appalachian Trail with his dad. Ivan’s parents are divorced. He doesn’t live with his mom or dad. He lives with his aunt—his mom’s sister—and his uncle. His dad remarried and has another family. His dad is also in the military and has been away overseas. Ivan’s mom takes care of his autistic brother two states away. So, there’s been very little family quality time in Ivan’s life. That hike with his dad was incredibly important to him, though he’d never admit that.

The paragraph above is not spelled out in Dragonfly Prince because it isn’t told from Ivan’s perspective. It’s told from Casey’s. She’s the youngest in a family with two daughters brought up in a middle class neighborhood in a predominantly military town right in the eye of the Bible belt. She’s grown up taking morality for granted. She’s used to people going out of their way to be considerate to each other. She’s also used to the social leniency granted towards outspoken American women. She expects to be respected because, well, she deserves respect. And being the youngest, she’s used to wielding a certain amount of power to get her way with Mom and Dad. She’s shocked by this land the dragonflies take her to, where she has no protection and no rights. She reacts in anger and frustration without thinking out the consequences. She’s never had to. The consequences have never been this big a deal.

Ivan understands the environment he’s been surviving in for the past ten or so months. He tries to explain it to Casey, and he doesn’t say it nicely. He wants to shake a little reality into her. The reader figures this out faster than Casey does. She’s not in her quaint little world anymore. She’s not owed anything. All the roughness Ivan shows to Casey, which she detests him for, isn’t lost on the reader who is, in fact, relating to Ivan better than to Casey. Through Casey’s fights with him we come to care for Ivan, to root for his side. The fact that we know Casey’s perspective is skewed makes us feel less sympathy for her.

Ivan resonates, though his bad points overpower the good ones. Because of this my readers have polar reactions to Ivan. They’ve met him. The ones who’ve experienced an Ivan in their lives are disturbed by Casey’s relationship with him. They tell her to run. Some of my readers have begged me not to kill Ivan off. Inwardly, they think he deserves it, but they want him to succeed. While I’m touched by Ivan, Casey is the one who resonates most with me. I know so many more like her. I love her because she’s so mixed up and needs help.

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Me and my aunt in front of Abrams Falls. We made it to the falls!

On the way to Abrams Falls a small, black bear crossed the path ahead of my aunt and me. I saw it, clear as day, but I didn’t register that, hey, there is a bear cub not fifty yards from me, fancy-free and well-clawed. And probably tailed by Momma Bear. The danger began to rush over me while we kept walking. Up the mountain I heard the bushes rustling, right over our heads. And I thought of the snacks I’d packed—raisins and apples and half a cheese quesadilla from lunch…a zipper bag of dark chocolate chips. I unzipped my backpack and stuffed my wallet and phone in the pockets of my cargo pants, thinking I wanted to be ready to relinquish my pack as a peace offering to the curious bear if he got any friendlier. Then it occurred to me that I had very little need for my wallet, or my phone for that matter. We had absolutely no phone signal. We hadn’t had a signal for a good thirty miles getting into the national park. So, basically, all this was going through my head, and it never would have if I hadn’t seen that bear.

The bear meandered away. Didn’t touch us. Nothing happened. But legitimate fear had peeled back the false sense of protection. I realized how much I take for granted about my safety. Not just at Cades Cove. There are so many freedoms I enjoy.

Ivan gets that. Though he grew up with more freedoms than most, he didn’t grow up with that sense of entitlement that Casey has. He despises her when she refuses to listen to his warnings. He’d like it if she got what was coming to her, but…he can’t seem to stop protecting her.

Yes, I’ve been up to that character research stuff again. Will I ever quit that? Um, probably not. Unless the bear gets me.

Happy Memorial Monday!

Over the weekend, Realm and I celebrated our 17-year anniversary by visiting the Manchester, Tennessee area. You might be asking, “What’s to do around Manchester, Tennessee?” The answer is: Research the sequel to Dragonfly Prince. I needed inspiration and info on a special character and a setting for Book 2.

This is the second time we’ve merged our anniversary getaway with my writing research. The first was our visit to Clarksville two years ago. I thought Realm would hate it. I was sure he wouldn’t go for, “Happy Anniversary! Now these are the places I need to know about. We only have a couple of days, so let’s go!”

He surprised me by saying, “Sounds like fun. Let’s do it.”

We found out we make a great team. I prepare the itinerary, and he gets us there. He chats up the locals for me, while I take notes and let my brain marinate in the details. Yeah, I’m 100% grateful to God for every one of those 17 years. There is no doubt in my mind that God chose Realm for me and me for him.

 

I Like Your Style! Inspiring Other Writers

Part 9 (and last) of The Fanfiction Experiment

‘Your soul is a beautiful thing, child,’ replied the grave man’s voice, ‘and I thank you. No emperor ever received so fair a gift.’

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

When I’m in the throes of a story, I will question sometimes whether I’ve become obsessed. There’s something very insistent about a tale all wrapped up in my head. It will entreat me to pay attention to it at the most inconvenient times. My thoughts trail away to a scene, and the characters begin to interact, whether I’m in a position to listen or not.

Medieval writing desk
Medieval writing desk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s no wonder that some of us writers grow emotionally attached to our stories. They become part of us. And when they are written and we close the book, it is a painful separation. An inexplicable grieving period follows that no one really shares or understands. Connecting with other writers is a way to find support for that intense connection that a writer can experience with his/her story-child.

When a writer hands over that treasured story for another to read, it’s a gift—even if it may seem more like a white elephant. Many writers are looking for someone willing to read their manuscript with an objective eye and to give insightful feedback. It is an opportunity to be supportive, not only of the work but of a writer’s heart.

Fanfiction allows you to observe a writer’s style and temperament before you agree to invest your time. Last summer, I discussed my great experience with my first critique partner. It worked out well, but it was definitely more of a blind search than getting acquainted with a writer through his/her online work and corresponding through private messages. I’ve reviewed and touched up many works from fanfic writers I got to know beforehand. I became interested in supporting the writer and his/her style first.

Here are some tips for encouraging meaningful interaction that can grow into that supportive writer relationship:

Give thorough, honest reviews
Receiving a thoughtful review is everything to a serious writer. He/she will seek you out for genuine feedback because he/she is not there simply to amass reviews. (I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice, mind you.)

Writing a thoughtful review is also a writer’s advertisement. This is true for blog comments, isn’t it? It’s the primary means I use to find writers whose work I’m interested in reading, whether it’s through blogging or online fiction.

Reading glasses
Reading glasses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Volunteer to be a beta reader
Being a beta reader, that second pair of eyes, is a ton of fun, but it requires sacrifice. It’s important to make the most of what you can offer a writer and prioritize, considering the time you will spend on the work. It’s necessary to be selective. One can’t be a beta reader for every writer who makes the request, but it’s worth it when you’re interested in a writer and/or the story. And beta reading isn’t just a service, it’s a learning experience. It helps a writer reason through the stream of someone’s work objectively, and it develops awareness of one’s own storytelling weaknesses. In my opinion, the object of a beta reader is to give a writer the assurance that the story flows and speaks to the reader. Honest assurance.

When I’m the writer, I try to be considerate of my beta reader, both of his/her time and feelings. I want to create a relationship in which it’s okay for my beta to respond, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure about this” when expressing a gut feeling. Sometimes a reader’s intuition benefits a writer more than textbook corrections.

English: "A Helping Hand". 1881 pain...
English: “A Helping Hand”. 1881 painting by Emile Renouf Français (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Be a mentor for a less-experienced writer
There are different ways to go about this–there are organizations, of course–but you can do this on fanfiction sites, too.

The lengthiest fanfic chapter story I’ve worked on was 25 chapters, and I accepted redrafts of each chapter. The story was written by an advanced high school student. It was a magical adventure, and her passion for improving her work made the whole experience magical for me. I started from scratch and returned to writing basics. Instead of cleaning up grammatical errors, I was allowed to help her restructure her sentences for better impact and flow. (You can’t do this with many writers because repeating a simple rule of grammar can come off belittling.) I brainstormed with her for ways to make her characters more than actors under her pen. The ideas came from her own head, and I just prompted her to decide the mood or conclusion she wanted and to think about ways to communicate that. She taught me so much! She completed her fanfic, and we’ve kept in touch. She’s in college and writing for her university’s paper. It makes me happy to know she still loves writing, despite my critiques.

In case you’ve missed a post or two, here are the points I’ve mentioned in the Fanfiction Experiment series:

  • All Fiction is Fan Fiction.

 Fanfiction:

  • is a ready-made setting for all types of writing exercises.
  • can help you realize who your audience is and how to talk to them.
  • inspires a writer to develop crisp characterizations.
  • can help you learn to write what your inner reader wants to read.
  • challenges writers to hold a reader’s attention.
  • sites can help you stay accountable, motivated, and focused.
  • allows writers to filter through the trends.
  • allows you to observe a writer’s style and temperament before you agree to invest your time.

I hope something I’ve touched on in this series has inspired you to think outside the box about ways you can develop your craft. Granted, fanfic readers aren’t editors, nor are they versed in all things considered marketable by the publishing industry. The majority of readers read what they do because they like it, not because they’ve analyzed the trends or they have a good eye for the best opening line. But it’s eye-opening for the writer who considers his/her craft a journey. No matter how much one learns, there is always something more to be gleaned. There is always room for growth. Keep writing!

Falkor*, Take Me Away

Today happens to be Appreciate a Dragon Day. This tradition was started in 2004 by Dragonspell author, Donita K. Paul. No, you don’t have to appreciate all dragons, just a dragon. I’m not sure if I properly appreciate the grumpy, igniting ones.

Have you ever researched dragons? It’s quite fun. In one of my dragon-curious moments, I found a great book, How to Raise and Keep a Dragon. It discusses a few of the known types of dragons, their general temperaments, and the life expectancy for each dragon type. (It varies because, you know, some are land dragons and some are aquatic dragons. Some are social and some are reclusive. Some don’t like red meat, and some will eat nothing but.)

The Dracorex Hogwartsia got me started on dragonlore. (The original skull is flatter than the link above portrays, by the way.)

Dracorex hogwartsia
Dracorex hogwartsia (Photo credit: RobDurdle.com)

Dracorex inspired me to write about Kapyn, my wyvern-influenced dragon in Dragonfly Prince. From there, a whole world unfolded, and I’ve been exploring it ever since.

So I’ll be appreciating Kapyn today—his faceted eyes with ruby glow, his two sets of wings, and his craving for the Itra stone. Even if he is a grumpy, fire-breathing nuisance at times.

*Falkor is the luckdragon from The Neverending Story, one of the coolest movies ever.